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Cleaning up: a day in the life of UNT custodians

Cleaning up: a day in the life of UNT custodians

Cleaning up: a day in the life of UNT custodians
February 06
00:21 2014

Javier Navarro // Staff Writer

Picking up and throwing away crumpled pieces of paper, cups, leftover food and flushing toilets isn’t the worst task custodian Vickie Matthews said she has ever performed.

“Probably cleaning up throw-up is,” Matthews said. “If someone gets sick in the bathroom, you got to clean up the toilets and the walls. It can be messy.”

It’s all a part of the job for the 51-year-old custodian, who’s been clearing the halls and restrooms of garbage in UNT buildings for 16 years. For Matthews, cleaning up after people comes natural to her.

“It’s like picking up after my four kids all of the time, so there’s not much to it for me,” Matthews said. “I clean a lot, I used to clean houses on the side too and it keeps me busy.”

Matthews is just one of the 103 custodians cleaning up trash and mopping the floors of more than 60 UNT buildings.

She usually starts her day at 10 a.m. in the General Academic Building after a 45-minute commute from Wise County, a trip she makes every weekday.

From there, she takes her cart with a trash bin attached and grabs supplies out of the custodial closet. She then goes around all four floors of the building, cleaning up all the trash on the floor coupled with the task of emptying trash cans.

Matthews follows the same routine while making her way to the Auditorium, Language, Physics and Art buildings. She also cleans Curry and Sage Hall until the end of her shift at 6:30 p.m. She said she will usually go through the buildings twice each day.

The students and faculty usually treat her respectfully. She often sparks up conversations, Matthews said.

Matthews also said she is one of three custodians who work the same full-time day shift as she does.

Most janitors employed by the UNT Custodial Services work full-time from 12:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to custodial services manager David Barkenhagen. He said most custodians will mop floors, clean offices and do a full cleanse of restrooms throughout the day.

Barkenhagen said cleaning up during the night shift is the most productive time for the custodial staff because the buildings are usually vacant and the staff will experience the least amount of distractions. He also said the students arrive at cleaner buildings when they attend school in the mornings.

Matthews worked the night shift for six months, but after her experience she wanted to make a change.

“At my age, it was killing me,” Matthews said, as she let out a soft chuckle. “I had to ask my boss ‘do you have any other hours for me? I’m looking dead here, I’m too old.’”

Barkenhagen said the custodial staff rarely has a “shutdown period.” Besides winter break, Thanksgiving Day and an occasional day off, the unit usually works throughout the year.

“Even while students are out, we work,” Barkenhagen said. “We also do projects and those include waxing and carpet cleaning and we do it for the whole year.”

Barkenhagen also said that his staff doesn’t account for every building on campus. Other buildings, such as residence halls, have their own custodial staff.

Chelsea Walker, 23, is one of the custodians who works in Bruce Hall and has worked there a little more than a year.

“[Cleaning up] is just something I’m used to doing,” Walker said. “It’s just a skill that I’ve grown to like.”

Unlike her previous job at a water park where she cleaned restrooms—a task she admits she didn’t like—she enjoys working at Bruce Hall.

Walker said her shift starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m. She begins the day by sweeping and mopping the floors in the cafeteria and cleaning the hallways. She also maintains the up-keep in the community restrooms.

Walker also said custodians should build a resistance to strong odors because it’s something that takes awhile to acclimate to.

Though she doesn’t mind cleaning, Walker said she doesn’t plan on being a janitor in the future, which could include college.

For Matthews, being a custodian is a job she intends to keep until retirement. Because of her age and the friendly people she has met throughout her years at UNT, she is content with her job.

“I’m going to stay here until they run me out of here,” Matthews said. “It’s my daily routine, I don’t think much of it and I’m going to retire here.”

Feature photo: Janitor Vickie Matthews pulls her work cart out of the custodian closet early Wednesday morning in the General Academic Building. Photo by Kristen Watson / Staff Photographer 

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